§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
moved, that the Standing Orders, Nos. 26, and 155, be suspended, in order to allow these Bills to be carried through as quickly as possible.
§ The EARL of CLARENDON
said, it was his duty to ask their Lordships to assent to the Bills, which were read a first time on Saturday, for admitting corn free of duty into this country, and for the suspension of the navigation laws, until the 1st of September next. Although he anticipated no opposition upon the part of their 353 Lordships to the second reading and further progress of the Bills which he intended to move, yet he was desirous to state the reasons which made the Government wish that the Bills should be carried in the shortest possible time, in order to afford every facility within their power to the importation of corn to this country. Inasmuch, however, as their Lordships were, no doubt, desirous of proceeding to the business for which they were especially summoned, he would not detain them at any length. The necessity of affording facilities for the introduction of foreign corn, was now more evident and more urgent than it appeared some weeks ago. The quality of the last wheat crop was good, and the quantity nearly an average, and an unprecedented quantity of foreign corn, amounting to from 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 quarters, had been introduced into this country. The price of wheat in the first week in October was 54s. per quarter; and, although it rose to 62s. in the first week of November, yet it fell to 59s. in the third week of the latter month, with a downward tendency. The Government received satisfactory assurances that the large importation of foreign corn would go far to remedy the failure in the potato crop; and they had also reason to believe that the failure of that crop had been greatly exaggerated, as well in France and Belgium as in this country. The case, however, was different now. The apprehended demand for an unusual supply was not confined to this country; but on the 16th of November the French Minister of Agriculture and Commerce published an official statement, to the effect that the failure in the potato crop was one-third or one-fourth of the whole. Great and general distress prevailed in France, Holland, Belgium, and the whole of Germany; and prices at Antwerp, Havre, and London were so nearly on an equality that the duty of 4s. a quarter, which the Government proposed to suspend, had become an important consideration. In France the navigation laws had been suspended, and a nominal duty of 6d. per quarter was imposed upon wheat. We ought, therefore, not to allow ourselves to be deprived of any advantages in the way of the importation of corn, either by the operation of our corn or our navigation laws. It was stated that the effect of repealing the duty of 4s. would be, that the present holders of corn in bond would pocket the whole of the duty remitted. But, for himself, he confessed that he regarded that much-abused class 354 of persons, the dealers in corn, as great public benefactors, to whom they were all indebted, and he would rather they should put 50,000l. into their pockets, which it was said they would do if Government remitted the duty on 260,000 quarters of wheat, than that the sufferings of the poor of this country should be aggravated by the corn being taken away and distributed in other parts of the world. The navigation laws were now found to be operating very injuriously against the means of procuring supplies of food. At present we could only get corn in British vessels, or the vessels of the country exporting the corn, and the consequence was, that a difficulty was thereby created in bringing corn from Odessa and ports in the United States, inasmuch as corn from Odessa or the United States could not, unless carried in British, be carried in any other than in Russian or American vessels, while it appeared that of 520 vessels laden with corn at Odessa, only 49 ships were English. The navigation laws had been suspended in France, and the result of that was that 37,000 tons of grain had arrived at Marseilles, which could not, under our navigation laws, come to this country; but supposing that we allowed Dutch or American vessels to bring corn to this country from other countries, we would thereby facilitate the importation of corn. Such a measure was rendered the more necessary from the present high rate of freights everywhere. At Odessa, where the rate of freight for corn was usually 8s. per quarter, it was now 14s.; at Trieste, where it was usually 7s., it was now 15s.; in the United States, where the prices were commonly 8s. per quarter for wheat, and for flour 3s. 6d. a barrel, freights were now 15s. and 5s. 6d. respectively. There was, indeed, great difficulty in procuring ships at all in the United States, in consequence of the Government of that country taking up all the vessels they could procure to convey stores and provisions to their army in Mexico. The result of the present high rate of freights was, that ships were tempted to make long voyages, and that vessels were withdrawn from the coasting trade. The freight of a quarter of corn from London to Cork, which was usually from 1s. to 1s. 6d., was now 3s. 6d., being about treble the ordinary amount. It was hoped that the effect of repealing the navigation laws would be, that some British vessels might be disengaged and employed in the coasting trade. He confessed that he did not expect any very 355 great benefit from the removal of these restrictions; but if their suspension caused any larger importation, he would say even the importation of a single additional cargo—or if they thereby prevented prices from rising any higher (which was the more likely to happen), the people of this country would feel that they were to some extent in a better condition, and their Lordships would have the consciousness that they had done what they could to mitigate the evils of the present scarcity.
The MARQUESS of SALISBURY
said, he would not offer any opposition to the suspension of the corn and navigation laws, although he did not expect that corn would be much lower in price if they were passed.
The EARL of MOUNTCASHELL
said, that every noble Lord of proper feelings, who knew the actual state of Ireland, must support the Government in their present measures. If they had been permanent, he should have opposed them; but, as their operation would only be temporary, he should offer no objection to them.
§ Bills read 2a (according to Order), and Standing Orders Nos. 26 and 155 considered (according to Order) and dispensed with: Committee negatived; and Bills read 3a, and passed.